If you've gravelled or paved your front garden to make space for parking a car, it doesn’t mean that there’s no room for plants. Far from it, says plantsman Graham Rice
There are lots of really good reasons to green up your front garden – and there are lots of small, trouble-free plants that will do the job admirably. Not only will they bring in bees and butterflies, having planting helps prevent flooding and looks pretty too.
Many plants love growing in gravel, and you can plant paved areas by taking out an occasional paving stone to instantly create a planting place. Some plants will seed around and spread to find places where they’re happy, essentially creating a garden for themselves off their own back.
Bugle, Ajuga reptans 'Catlin's Giant', is ideal for shady corners of the driveway. It will spread about quite happily in cooler spots, and as it spreads into sunnier areas will be naturally restrained. Recovers well from the occasional trampling, and its large purple-bronze leaves look well against all types of gravel. 20cm. AGM (Award of Garden Merit).
Acaena microphylla ‘Kupferteppich’ develops into a low mat of ground-hugging growth that roots easily into gravel. The very small, evergreen foliage has a distinctive coppery colouring, and makes a harmonious background for its other decorative feature: the bristly burrs. Sometimes almost covering the plant in summer, the burrs follow demure white flower heads and may cling to your socks, fall off later and germinate in unexpected places. 5cm.
A close cousin of hardy geraniums, Erodium × variabile ‘Roseum’ is a true gravel lover. Enjoying good drainage and plenty of sun, it has neat evergreen foliage and bright pink flowers in spring and summer. This is also an ideal plant to squeeze into a wide crack between slabs from which its stems will radiate. It also has the added benefit that bees love it. 8cm. AGM.
Eschscholzia californica 'Dali' is a self-seeding annual that is ideal in driveways. Self-sows prolifically, which makes up for all the plants that are flattened by feet or tyres. This award-winning plant is neater than most, with vivid, golden-centred, rippled flowers. As it self sows, a little variation creeps into its colouring keeping it varied and exciting. 25cm. AGM.
An old cottage garden favourite, creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’) is another plant for those damp shady corners of the driveway, and running over slabs. Its neat yellow leaves are just lovely. As with bugle, it tends to sneak into situations that suit it, but I find there’s a balance to be struck: too much shade and leaves lose their brightness. It snakes along, rooting as it goes, and buttercup yellow flowers line the shoots in summer. 5cm. AGM.
Forget-me-nots bring carefree spring colour to gardens. They grow happily in gravel and paving cracks, and are well known as dependable plants to self sow. Myosotis sylvatica 'Bluesylva' is exceptionally prolific with large flowers. Though some forget-me-nots become spindly over time, this selection stays large and bold for longer. 20cm. AGM.
A diminutive hardy cranesbill, Geranium subcaulescens makes an attractive, dense mound. The prettily divided foliage is nicely silvered and the flowers are truly vivid. Deep pink in colour, and having dark veins and an almost black eye, this selection is at its peak in May and June but its flowers keep coming until autumn. 10cm. AGM.
Black mondo grass Ophiopogon planiscapus 'Kokuryu' (formerly 'Nigrescens') has two features going for it. Its long and slender black foliage looks wonderful against gravel; and it also has the knack of extending itself under the gravel and then popping new shoots through. The result is a steadily extending plant that recovers easily from trampling and which binds the gravel together. 15cm. AGM.
A lovely little succulent plant, Sedum spathulifolium ‘Purpureum’ is happy anywhere that’s sunny and well-drained. Its reddish leaves have a white bloom and make a low, spreading mat. The stems, though a little fragile, generate new shoots which root through the gravel. Its starry yellow summer flowers add to the appeal. 10cm. AGM.
Perfect for a sunny spot, creeping thyme Thymus Coccineus Group has deep pink flowers that are a huge attraction to pollinating bees. It is a fine plant for driveways; firstly, it spreads over stones and gravel, taking root as it goes. Secondly, it tolerates a light footfall every day. Next, when you step on it, it gives off a fine fragrance. 8cm. AGM.